Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report

Thursday 07, 2019: With no pomp and circumstance, the refurbished “Old” Causeway Bridge ...

Snowman building outside the Day School for Ridiculously Gifted Tots ... 


ALERT: These are moving up the coastline from down south. 

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Wildlife officials say that a Colorado man killed a mountain lion by choking it. The man was running when the attack occurred. With his adrenaline pumping he choked the lion to death!

The man told investigators that he was attacked from behind, so he choked it out in self defense. an examination of the lion confirmed his story.

The man has not been identified because of the investigation. He is currently in the hospital, and expected to make a full recovery.

(Just when I thought there was no good use for my judo training. Bring it on Jersey cougars. I already hear cat-lovers screaming that the awful man should have loosened his grip when the cougar tapped out. ) 

With no pomp and circumstance, the refurbished “Old” Causeway Bridge has opened, single (right lane) of westbound traffic. Sidewalk is NOT functional just yet, though it too looks close to its openly point. I'm anxious for the bikeway/walkway to launch, with spring coming on and some belly fat to lose via pedaling. 


It was oddly eerie driving across my old buddy The Big Bridge," even though I’ve known it for over 50 years. I did the drive-over twice. The second time, I did a look-see to mt right. The view looking north is decent, though the walkway/bike path makes it far less of a vista than back in the day. There is obviously very little southward viewing from the north span. The south vista from the eastbound lanes is quite nice, almost on par with pre-project days.

It should be remembered that the opening of the new Old Bridge – westbound Causeway -- is likely temporary and does not mark an approaching completion of the project by any means. The final steps, including the readying of the trestle bridges and the modifying of adjacent intersections in Ship Bottom and Manahawkin, could take three more years.

I'm now debating, from a journalistic angle, what to call the two sister bridges when they're both up and being run over, maybe the Eastbound and Westbound bridges ... or the South Span and North Span. I've already been told many a reader might not know south from north. Of course, why would they know Eastbound and Westbound spans any better. Mainland-bound bridge and Island-bound bridge? 

More seriously, for the motoring moment the Causeway drive-over is tighter than even, with one lane each way -- for the time being. What's more, when I drove over, there were workfolks (men and women) very close to traffic. Give 'em a Brake. 


You have to admit, these are some insane temp swings; last week we saw a 70 degree jump from a near-zero night reading to a 70 mainland temp two days later. Yes, I'm rounding off the numbers for affect, but I often use Pinelands' readings, an area where I've been known to roam far and wide. Still, it begs: What's up with the skies above? The answer, my friends, is blowing in ...

I already here talk of a major snow storm -- eight days from now. Hmmm.


"Jay, Does anyone surf fish here in the middle of winter? ..."

Nope. However, when I was insanely into kayaking, I'd paddle out, mid-winter, just past the sand bars and drift a small-hook pompano rig and often catch hake. I once had half a dozen in short order. Most were too small to keep. Talk about a slimy fish. I have to think a long caster could reach that far out from shore ... maybe not. Now, should they ever build an ocean fishing pier ... 


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 Below: I just got done reading about the bust of a poacher who was making hundreds of thousands off an illegal trade in diamondback terrapins, bound for the pet realm. He was illegally nabbing thousands of terrapins of many sizes. Little Egg Harbor area was one of his prime theft zones. In fact, by my tally, his take (well over 3,500 in just a few month of 2018) comes close to neutralizing the hand-nurtured terrapins so many fine local folks had worked so hard to release into the wild.

By his own admission, he has been reptile poaching and smuggling for many years. The total number of terrapins he stole throughout his crime spree could exceed 10,000 by some accounts. The reptiles have become highly sought-after pets. Google-wise, there are pages after pages under “diamondback terrapins as pets.” As noted in the story, he was mailing off tiny terrapins via the US Postal Service, saying they were “book.” Again, these were live baby terrapins. No mention of the survival rate. The scarier side is how many dealers receiving these deliveries knew they were shady, if only by the odd “books” shipping designation. This is nothing against any mail and parcel deliver services, which have made such criminal enterprises viable due to how quickly they can deliver parcels.  

Jumping way ahead, not only will the fines be insignificant when compared to how much he has profited over the years, but he’ll be at it again before the echoes of the judge’s gavel fade. Poachers never die, they just slowly fade away – or are found mysteriously floating in the bay one day.

Man pleads guilty in $530k illegal NJ turtle trafficking case
Frank Kummer Philly.com 

For years, David Sommers would drive from his Levittown, Pennsylvania, home to New Jersey’s swamps and marshes, often under the cover of darkness, to collect turtles or dig for their eggs.

But these weren’t just any turtles: they were diamondback terrapins, a species native to the East Coast that is in sharp decline. When hatched, they can bring in thousands of dollars in sales. In New Jersey, it’s illegal to take or transport the semi-aquatic turtle. And, federally, it’s illegal to misrepresent such sales.

In 2017, federal investigators, posing as buyers, launched an elaborate undercover sting that included tracking Sommers’ vehicle by GPS to remote wetlands.

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On Monday, Sommers pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of false labeling for a package shipped to Canada under the Lacey Act, which makes it unlawful to submit false records for fish, wildlife or plants that have been shipped in the U.S. or internationally. He had originally been charged with six counts, including smuggling, when he was indicted in July 2018.

An attorney representing Sommers, Steven M. Jones, said he could not comment until after sentencing, which is scheduled for May 15. Sommers faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 as well as restitution.

Though Sommers collected and sold turtles for a number of years, federal officials narrowed the focus of the charge to their investigation from Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2017. Sommers sold 3,500 turtles over the period, with records showing his total sales to be $530,341, according to court documents.

According to his plea agreement, Sommers, now in his early 60s, began collecting eggs and female turtles from New Jersey’s coastal marshes at least five years prior to his arrest. He would sell the turtles and hatch the eggs in an incubator and post them for sale online, marketing them as captive bred. In reality, they had all come from the swamps.

Sommers, a retired newspaper reporter for the Trentonian and part-time courier for a law firm, eventually grew the business to where he was selling 1,000 diamondback terrapins a year, earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually, prosecutors said.

He was not only warned by U.S. Postal Service employees that shipping turtles was illegal, but was also told by New Jersey wildlife officers who once stopped him that it was illegal to collect turtles and their eggs.

Still, Sommers shipped the turtles to Canada and other parts of the U.S. In 2014, a Canadian customs officer intercepted a FedEx package Sommers had shipped, according to court papers.

The package was labeled as a book valued at $10. In reality, it contained 11 live diamondback terrapin hatchlings concealed in pouches. The turtles were valued at up to $1,320 in total. Canadian officials seized the package and identified Sommers as a common link to many known reptile dealers and bank accounts associated with turtle trafficking, his plea agreement states.

The terrapins, which have diamond-shape shell markings, are protected under New Jersey law and by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. New Jersey once allowed limited taking of terrapins, but banned that in 2016.

Prices paid for the turtles vary widely, with hatchings fetching between $10 and $120. But an adult female can sell for hundreds of dollars. Sommers advertised primarily on a reptile trade website with the username “Dave-PA.”

The federal investigation kicked off when an agent went undercover to buy turtles from Sommers through the website, kingsnake.com. The agent purchased 17 diamondback terrapins for $1,394. Sommers had marketed the turtles as captive bred, according to a court filing.
Agents then obtained search warrants to place GPS tracking devices on two cars owned by Sommers.

New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation officers saw Sommers on a main road at 9:30 p.m. on July 11, 2017 in the Great Bay Management Area in Little Egg Harbor Township.

Sommers showed the officers eight turtle eggs and said he had taken them from nests along the road, according to the filing. The officers saw freshly dug holes nearby. They issued him a citation for being in the wildlife area after hours and warned him that collecting turtle eggs was illegal.

However, the court filing says GPS located Sommers the next night in the same area in his other car where he made stops between midnight and 2 a.m. before returning home. They then tracked Sommers again a few nights later when an agent conducting surveillance saw him remove 188 eggs from his car.

They tracked him at least two other times until searching his home on Oct. 24, 2017. There, court papers say, they found 3,442 diamondback terrapin hatchlings and 23 box turtles. They also found Oxytocin, a drug used to induce female turtles to release their eggs. They also found shipping packages and labels.

Sommers then admitted he had been collecting eggs and turtles from New Jersey.

“The quantity of terrapins Sommers had for sale dwarfed any other seller,” federal prosecutors stated in his plea agreement.


PETA Puts Lobster Ads Up at Bangor International Airport in Attack Against Maine Processor

February 6, 2019

PETA’s “I’m ME, Not MEAT” lobster ads are up at Bangor International Airport. The animal rights group has taken out the ad space at the airport following a complaint they submitted to Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster back in December regarding footage of alleged mistreatment at the Maine Fair Trade Lobster plant.

As previously reported, PETA released an undercover video of the alleged mistreatment, and told the District Attorney that the processor “mutilates and tortures fully conscious lobsters, causing them unjustifiable pain and suffering by tearing off their claws, puncturing their shells, and ripping their abdomens and tails from their heads.” Maine Fair Trade Lobster spokeswoman Christina Ferranti fired back at the animal rights group, saying in a statement that the company not only follows standard industry practices, but aims to surpass them.

“The company believes in the humane treatment of lobsters and continues to invest in new technologies and process improvements with the goal of promoting the welfare of lobsters,” Ferranti said in a statement at the time. “Maine Fair Trade Lobster will continue to work with industry lobster associations and scientific parties for ongoing management and handling of lobsters.”

Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers Association, told the Bangor Daily News back in December that the industry, including fishermen, processors and dealers need to “take a stand against attacks and tactics” that PETA uses in an attempt to embarrass the industry.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that PETA’s “I’m ME, Not MEAT” lobster ads have gone up at an airport in Maine. In August, ahead of the Maine Lobster Festival, PETA purchased space for their posters at the Portland International Jetport. Later that month PETA attacked the Maine lobster industry again by petitioning to erect a 5-foot-tall granite tombstone at the site of a lobster truck crash in Brunswick.


INTERVIEW: Future of Large-Scale Algae Production Means Approaching it Like Any Other Crop

Source: Feedinfo News Source
February 6, 2019

High in protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, potentially beneficial for specialty applications like methane reduction, algae is an incredibly versatile category that many believe can transform the feed industry…just as soon as we can figure out how to get enough of the stuff, at a quality and purity that can be used safely in animals and a price point that would make it relevant for this application. Unfortunately, this has proven to be rather difficult.

Therefore, the arrival on the scene of a new algae production concept is an exciting one. Qualitas Health Inc. is pioneering the production of photosynthetic [or technically “photoautotrophic”] algae in open ponds instead of closed reactors. As observed by Dr. Rebecca White, vice president of operations at Qualitas, the open pond concept itself has been one that has been tried for decades. What’s innovative, she says, is how the company is approaching the problem: instead of trying to take the lab outside, the company is borrowing principles from farming, “focusing on algae as a crop instead of as an industrial microbe.” 
What that meant was finding a strain that was tolerant to the kind of operational parameters that would make large-scale farming possible; after all, traditional farming has had millennia to select the right crop for particular environments. Adapting to weather is an obvious first example. “We grow year-round, [which] a lot of other folks don’t,” says Dr. White.  Therefore, even in the warm, sunny climates of the southwest US, where the company’s production is based, the algae might see air temperatures as low as -5°c and as high as 38°c. In Dr. White’s words, you want to have an organism with a range of a few degrees above and below those temperatures, and to have them not only grow, but have a good yield in terms of the nutritional products to be extracted. “That’s a very large range…you say that, quite honestly, to other algae people, and they say ‘no, that’s not possible’. Well, it is if you supply the right selection pressures when you’re screening for these strains.” 
An algae which can tolerate a range of salinities and pH tolerance is equally important, for slightly different reasons, she explains. Chemical treatments for pests or weeds are difficult or impossible to use with algae, because of the risk that they will accumulate in the product, and because of a lack of approval for this use, so the company plays with water chemistry parameters to eliminate unwanted interlopers. “We’ll drop the pH very rapidly, more than a point, and hold it there 24 hours, which is detrimental to the pest but our algae will tolerate it, and it has little effect on the end product, EPA percentage and protein percentage in the biomass,” she claims.
Learning from crop farming also meant bringing in paradigms and practices which are standard in modern agriculture, such as integrated pest management, characterized by rapid detection, consistent monitoring, proactive versus reactive treatment to minimize pest contamination. “That’s been around since not too long after the invention of chemical pesticides,” she asserts, “but it turns out that borrowing principles like that…has given us our success.” This can be seen in the way Qualitas deputizes all employees to be vigilant for contamination, rather than leaving this primarily the responsibility of the quality assurance department. “Our quality control group is centralized, and then at each farm we have a smaller group of people that do day to day crop protection work, [based on] very simple things, just how the crop looks visually,” she says. “Constant and consistent monitoring is very simple and everybody can do it…the only equipment you need is a good pair of eyeballs.” 
Production of Qualitas’s algae takes place at sites in Texas and New Mexico. They currently have 150 acres under production across the two farms, and can produce upwards of 10 to 15 tons of ash free dry weight per acre. The length of time between harvests varies according to the temperature, Dr. White explains; in summer, you have to harvest 2-3 times a week, but this drops to once every 10-14 days in winter. What this amounts to is roughly 30-35 harvests per pond per year. 
According to her, this infrastructure “will take us through the next few years.” While they have room to expand at the existing locations—possibly as much as tripling acreage under cultivation—she points out that this is only one of the possible next steps in terms of volume growth, observing that from a biosecurity standpoint, there is certainly interest in diversifying the location of their farms as much as possible. Future production might not even necessarily be under their own supervision; “when you think about row crops…you don’t have one group that farms all peanuts [in the world].” As Dr. White explains, while Qualitas owns the flagship farm in Texas where the R&D is carried out, the New Mexican location is operated by Green Stream Farms, with whom Qualitas has a technology transfer agreement and a contract to buy the final product. After all, it is an expensive and risky venture to be concentrated in the hands of one single operator; moreover, keeping everything in-house would limit the ability to scale algae production at a global level. But, she warns, these partnerships must be constructed with immense care. “It has to be the right partner. Algae is not an easy crop.”
Nearly 7 years old as a company, Qualitas’s specialty is first and foremost algae farming. From that algae, it produces vegan omega-3 supplements, with a strength in EPA that Dr. White claims is unique; “currently the majority of algae-produced omega 3s are either exclusively DHA or very heavily DHA; we’ve focused on an algae that only makes EPA.” It is also looking at the protein potential: she claims that the Nannochlorpsis biomass the company is producing is about 40% protein (ash-free dry weight) and has an interesting profile of essential and branched chain amino acids. However, it doesn’t see a direct role for itself in the animal nutrition industry, preferring instead to partner with others. A company called NBO3 Technologies, which buys Nannochlorpsis from Green Stream farms, is currently serving as the final link connecting this algae production concept with the animal feed industry. According to a spokesperson for NBO3 (which stands for “naturally better omega-3”), the use of a feeding protocol including these ingredients can result in beef, pork, chicken, and egg products with substantially higher omega-3 levels, benefiting the final human consumer, as well as improving the health of the animal itself and any offspring. NBO3 Technologies is currently focused on commercialization of both these meat products and the “greatoOFeed” proprietary feeding system behind them.  

Meanwhile, Qualitas’s products have not yet found their way into commercial aquaculture feeds, Dr. White says, but it is partnered with an another firm to compete in the Fish-Free Feed (F3) challenge which seeks to promote the development of aquaculture feeds free of fishmeal and fish oil. They even see potential for their algae solutions to be used to improve the health of companion animals, although again this would be through partnerships and not through Qualitas’s own entry into this market. “[Animal nutrition] needs new and different ingredients, and we know how to produce something new and highly beneficial for those markets.”  
Restaurants Hungry for Harbour Seals; First Nations Asked to Harvest Pinnipeds for Toxin Tests

Copyright © 2019 Vancouver Province
By Randy Shore 
February 6, 2019

If local harbour seals are fit to eat, they could soon find themselves on the menu in fancy restaurants from Montreal to Beijing and beyond.

First Nations hunters and fishermen up and down B.C.'s coast are being asked to harvest seals for lab tests that will determine if they are safe for human consumption.

The Pacific Balance Pinniped Society is asking for samples of liver, heart, flesh and blubber for laboratory testing with an eye to selling into markets hungry for seal and sea lion meat in North America, Europe and Asia.

Many coastal First Nations are already entitled to hunt seals and sea lions under their Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy agreements with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said society director Thomas Sewid.

The society is meeting with the federal department's Fisheries Management and Resource Planning group on Thursday to authorize commercial harvesting and to request that hunting rights be extended to all coastal First Nations.

They want to reduce seal and sea lion numbers to take pressure off of B.C.'s endangered and threatened chinook stocks and to develop markets for pinniped products from meat and omega-3-rich blubber to pelts and penile bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicines. (Pinnipeds are mammals that have both front and rear flippers.)

"We are coming to them with a plan and a budget," said society president Roy Jones Jr.

The society - with First Nations directors hailing from Tsawwassen to Haida Gwaii - plans to start harvesting seals for testing at labs in B.C. and Manitoba after the meeting.

"If it passes the Canadian standards for human consumption and for pet food, that will help us develop our market," said Sewid. "We know there is a monstrous market in Asia, for high-end restaurants in North America, and for pet food."

Seal blubber has a high concentration of natural fatty acids, which can be marketed as a fish oil supplement and used in cosmetics.

"The population of pinnipeds from California to Alaska - harbour seals, Steller and California sea lions - has exploded," said Sewid.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimates there are 105,000 harbour seals in B.C. coastal waters, roughly 10 times the number recorded in the early 1970s.

The society does not support a large-scale cull of pinnipeds, rather they seek to bring the population back into historical balance by returning to their hunting tradition.

Recent archeological work at a 14,000-year-old village site on Triquet Island revealed that local First Nations hunted seals and sea lions for food for thousands of years.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences estimates that seals and sea lions in Puget Sound consume about nine times the amount of chinook salmon they ate before 1970, and that the rise of harbour seals "coincides directly" with the decline of chinook salmon.

Harbour seals that specialize in eating juvenile salmon eat up to 100 times more individual fish than those that eat mature salmon, according to a separate study.

That is why many Aboriginal and commercial fishermen and recreational anglers believe seals are eating millions of chinook in the Salish Sea and contributing to the decline of southern resident killer whales.

Last summer, the United States authorized states in the Pacific Northwest and their First Nations to kill more than 900 California sea lions a year to protect vulnerable steelhead and chinook runs, some of which were described as being on the verge of extinction by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The hunt proponents say there is little public appetite for a cull of seals and sea lions in British Columbia.

"That's not what we are proposing," said Jones. "We are talking about starting an industry that will create 4,000 jobs on the coast and lessen the impact of these animals on all fin fish."

The group has identified two processing plants on Vancouver Island with capacity to process commercially harvested pinnipeds, along with a pet food company based in the Lower Mainland, said society director Ken Pearce, a non-Aboriginal sportsman.


Will be selling some lures soon
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Chinese Consumers Pushing Back on Shark Fin

Copyright © 2019 Morgan Murphy Media
By Marian Liu
February 5, 2019

Adeline Chan's nose crinkled at the market's pungent, briny smell.

Chan and her mother were once regulars at Hong Kong's Dried Seafood Market, in Sheung Wan, where endless stalls display plastic bins stuffed with various forms of dried shark fin.

"We don't need shark fins for ourselves, but sharks need their fins," said Chan, now a vegan. "I stopped consuming shark fin soup four years ago after learning what sharks had to go through before a bowl of shark fin soup is served."

But fins continue to be popular at these stores, along with other delicacies such as sea cucumbers, scallops and abalone.

According to Hong Kong's tourism board, this seafood market has been around for at least 50 years, but the dried seafood trade can be traced to the 1860s, said Sidney Cheung, director of the Centre for Cultural Heritage Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Shark fin has long been a status symbol at Chinese dinners, particularly for wedding banquets.

As much as half of the global supply has been found to pass through Hong Kong, the second-highest consumer of seafood in Asia at 71.8 kilograms (158 pounds) per person per year. This is more than three times the global average, according of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

And on Chinese New Year, many family dinners will include shark fin. Last year, the Hong Kong Shark Foundation found that over 80% of 291 Chinese New Year menus in Hong Kong included these dishes.

A culture of fins

For many Chinese families, culture dictates the consumption of shark fin.

"There was an old saying in Hong Kong in the 1970s: 'To stir shark fin with rice.' It was used to describe the lifestyle of the wealthy, implying that they were rich enough to afford shark fin on a daily basis," said Tracy Tsang, manager of WWF-Hong Kong's Footprint program.

"Today, the older generation still considers serving shark fin to their guests during banquets a sign of hospitality."

Many people in China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Macau and Vietnam all consume shark fin -- primarily the Chinese population.

"The concept of 'no fin, no feast' is still deeply rooted in many people's minds," said Bowie Wu Fung, an 86-year-old Hong Kong actor who now speaks for WildAid, appearing on billboards in Hong Kong against shark fin consumption.

Fung hopes to reach the older generation, who constitute the bulk of the buyers at Hong Kong's Dried Seafood Market.

"Shark's fin is one of the 'four treasures' of Chinese dried seafood, along with fish maw, dried abalone and sea cucumber," said Daisann McLane, director of the gourmet food tour company Little Adventures in Hong Kong. "All four are expensive products that are valued for their rarity and also for their texture."

The bigger the fin and the thicker the veining, the more expensive it is, store clerks at Hong Kong's Dried Seafood Market said.

Prices can range from $90 Hong Kong dollars (about $12) for 600 grams (1.3 pounds) for small shredded pieces to $7,000 Hong Kong dollars (around $930) for 600 grams. According to a report released in 2016 by the conservation organization Traffic, shark fin prices can range from $99 to $591 per kilogram in Hong Kong.

On the lower end, a shark fin set lunch can cost $80 Hong Kong dollars to 90 Hong Kong dollars ($11 to $12) at Chinese restaurants, while some upscale places charge up to $1,200 Hong Kong dollars ( $160) for a bowl of shark fin soup, Tsang said.

'A shark trading hub'

More than 1 million tons of shark are caught each year, according to a 2018 study in Marine Policy, which named Hong Kong as the "world's biggest shark trading hub" where shark fin imports have doubled since 1960.

Nearly 60% of the world's shark species are threatened, the highest proportion among all vertebrate groups, and the populations of some species, such as hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, have declined by more than 90% in recent years due to the shark fin soup trade, according to the study.

DNA studies have further revealed that one-third of the shark species represented on the Hong Kong retail market may be threatened with extinction.

"Sharks are in crisis," said Andy Cornish, leader of WWF's Global Shark and Ray Initiative. "The demand for shark fin in East and Southeast Asia and for shark meat in other parts of the world are the major drivers for the overfishing of sharks. This is, by far, the biggest cause of the shark population decline. Currently, 100% of shark fin sold in Hong Kong is from unsustainable and/or untraceable sources."

Hong Kong customs seized at least 5 metric tons of illegal fins between 2014 and July 2018. From January to October 2018, there were six smuggling cases of endangered species of shark fins with seizure, involving a total of 236 kilograms (520 pounds) of dried shark fins, according to Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

But continued interest is putting the environment -- and humans -- at risk.

Ecosystem chaos

When a shark's fin is sliced off, the animal dies, said Yvonne Sadovy, lead author of the Marine Policy study and a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong.

"It cannot move, feed or swim, so it just starves to death on the sea bottom. Maybe it is like cutting the wings off a flying plane: The plane will be destroyed," she said.

Sharks need their fins for steering, balancing and, for some, breathing.

"There are sharks that must continue swimming to be able to breathe, as they rely on the forward motion to keep water passing through their gill slits and get oxygen," said Stan Shea, marine program director for the Bloom Association Hong Kong, a nonprofit that works to preserve the marine environment.

When their fins are cut off, "they are likely to die of suffocation, as they are no longer able to breathe by swimming forwards. (For others), they are unlikely to suffocate but die either by starvation or watching as other animals 'consume' them alive."

In addition, as a predator at the top of the food chain, sharksa are critical to maintaining balance in the ecosystem, Shea said. Its loss could cause "behavioral change" and "chaos."

For example, when numbers of sharks decrease, their prey will increase and overeat the next level on the food chain, which is why cownose rays wiped out the scallop population in North Carolina, Sadovy said.

"Most sharks are important predators and therefore can play key roles in keeping ecosystems functioning. Depletion of sharks is expected to have negative effects on populations of prey species, many of which may be also be sharks, or rays," said Nick Dulvy, co-chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Shark Specialist Group.

'Why the heck would you eat it?'

Eating shark meat could be harmful to humans, too.

Studies have found that sharks accumulate marine toxins, as long-lived predators at the top of the food chain. The levels of these toxins, including mercury, lead and arsenic, exceed recommended dietary levels, according to articles in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety warned against the consumption of predatory fish species after finding a sample from a supermarket that contained a level of mercury eight times the permissible limit in 2017.

"The main food safety concern for shark fin/meat and other large predatory fish is the accumulation of mercury, especially methylmercury," the center said in a statement.

"Methylmercury is the most toxic form of mercury affecting the nervous system, particularly the developing brain. At high levels, mercury can affect fetal brain development, and affect vision, hearing, muscle coordination and memory in adults."

In 2016, WildAid tested samples of raw shark fin samples from Hong Kong and Taiwan's dried seafood markets and found that all contained above the permissible amounts for arsenic and more than half exceeded levels for cadmium, a known carcinogen.

"If something damages your brain, why ... would you eat it?" asked Deborah Mash, professor of neurology at the University of Miami. "There's also no good evidence for health benefits."

A 2016 study by Mash found a cyanobacterial toxin in sharks fins linked to the neurodegenerative diseases Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called ALS.

Analyzing 55 sharks across 10 species from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, her team found that the majority contained the cyanobacterial toxin β-N-methylamino-l-alanine, together with another environmental toxin -- methylmercury -- which is known to accumulate in sharks.

Traditional Chinese medicine may also have no need for shark fins.

"To my knowledge, shark fin is never a part of Chinese medicine practice," said Professor Lixing Lao, director of the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. "Chinese medicine community is nowadays very much aware of protection of endangered species to be used in the Chinese medicine practice."

Besides, "shark fins have no taste on their own. It barely offers a crunchy texture when you bite into it," said executive chef Chan Yan Tak, the first Chinese chef to get three Michelin stars, at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, which stopped serving shark fin in 2011. "The flavor comes from the soup: a superior stock that is boiled for eight hours with Yunnan ham, chicken and pork ribs."

Increasingly, public attitudes toward shark fin are turning.

Pushback from big voices

According to parallel studies in 2009 and 2014, consumption of shark fin in the last year surveyed in Hong Kong went down from more than 70% to less than 45%.

In contrast, the acceptability of excluding shark fin soup from weddings went up from around 78% to 92%, according to studies by the marine environment nonprofit Bloom Association of Hong Kong.

WildAid and WWF-Hong Kong estimate that more than 18,000 hotels, 44 international airlines and 17 of the 19 largest container shipping lines have stopped serving shark fin and banned it from cargo, affecting close to three-quarters of global shipments. The volume of shark fin imported into Hong Kong has also dropped by half, from 10,210 metric tons in 2007 to 4,979 metric tons in 2017, according to Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Department.

"It was a big challenge initially, getting customers to accept our shark fin policy," said Andy Chan, senior director of food and beverage for Shangri-La Hotels & Restaurants, which took shark fin off its menus in 2010. "We accepted that it would mean a substantial cut for our banqueting business. We initiated the policy because it was the right thing to do. We recognized that as a species, sharks are threatened with extinction, and if this happens, it would put the health of our oceans and fisheries at risk."

Joining Shangri-La in pledging to stop the sale of shark fin are Cathay Pacific, Four Seasons and, most recently, the popular Hong Kong restaurant chain Maxim's, by 2020. The Four Seasons and some others offer a vegan version of the soup.

"As more hotels and restaurants join together in this pledge, we send a strong signal to our community and can together help to reshape dining concepts around sustainability," Tak said.

WWF and WildAid are working to persuade more companies to make the pledge against shark fin. Recently, WildAid campaigner Alex Hofford talked to the Fulum Group, one of the largest Hong Kong chains with more than 80 restaurants, about reviewing its policies.

Citing the nonprofit's motto, Hofford said, "when the buying stops, the killing can, too."


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